“The little fellas are in trouble”
Smoke and flames might be part of the outdoor experience if you’re heading to the Doctor Park area in the next two months.
The U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Division of Wildlife will be performing a controlled burn between Spring Creek and the Taylor River during July and August. The burn is intended to clean up areas of the forest and make it easier for bighorn sheep to navigate and reproduce.
Doctor Park is a popular single-track trail that runs between Spring Creek and the Taylor River.
According to the DOW the Taylor Canyon bighorn sheep herd has been in decline for the past several years.
Forest Service fire management officer Jerry Chonka says one of the major impacts to the herd is the popularity of the area for recreational activity. The sheep are encountering more people and being driven into a smaller range.
“The little fellas are in trouble. At one time that was one of the biggest and healthiest herds around,” Chonka says. “The division is concerned we might lose that sheep herd if we don’t do something. We’re just trying to clean it up and make it a little more open for the sheep to move around.”
In 2008 the Forest Service completed a NEPA assessment of possible remedies across a 32,000-acre range to help the declining herd. The solution that was chosen was the use of prescribed, or controlled, burns to thin the forest.
According to a press release from the Forest Service, “Prescribed fire will be used to open up migration corridors for bighorn sheep between summer and winter ranges, increase the quality and quantity of summer range forage, reduce snail populations that lead to lungworm infections, and apply fire to the ecosystem to improve forest health.”
Forest Service and DOW biologists determined that one of the highest priority areas to treat is between the North Bank Campground and Doctor Park. This area will be burned between July 10 and August 31.
Chonka says the total size of the burn will be about 500 acres, on both sides of the Doctor Park trail.
There won’t be any burning immediately next to the trail, but flames might be visible and smoke will definitely be present. Chonka says the trail will be open to recreational use during the prescribed burn, and while there should not be any danger from fire or smoke, he asks trail users to be a bit more cautious.
Forest Service officials will be on scene for the duration of the burn.
At most, Chonka says, there could be temporary delays on some sections of the trail.
Chonka says the Forest Service did some controlled burns along the Doctor Park trail in the early ’90s. “People loved to stop and watch and talk to us. It must be some basic primordial instinct.”
He says the Taylor Canyon area has experienced several significant fires in the last 200 years, mostly due to lightning strikes.